Monday, December 29, 2014

Venus Run 2015 - a public service announcement

A public service announcement for my female Singapore readers (like...both of you).

This landed in my inbox recently: registration is now open for the Venus Run on March 8 2015.

There aren't a lot of dedicated, competitive 5Ks - at least not for grown-ups - in this neck of the woods. If you want a good hard time trial and the chance to pit yourself against some of Singapore's speediest women, the Venus Run is for you.

And if you're just getting into running and want to stretch your limits or test your progress with a 5K, the Venus Run is for you too. (Seriously. I have seen women of all ages, all sizes and all speeds happily complete this run.)

Early bird rate is S$38 till January 25, after which it's $45 till February 15, and the swag is usually fairly decent. So is the food and beverage spread before and after the race! The event tee is still blindingly pink though. You've been warned.

Venue: It's at Gardens by the Bay again, which suggests the route will be similar - watch out for those short sharp hills up Marina Barrage! Alas, no route map yet. That's par for the course for SG races, but this is an SAA certified race so you generally know the distance is correct. Again, it starts promptly at 5pm in the middle of March, which is usually hot and dry with 30C temps. Not for the heat-averse or faint of heart!

I don't get paid or compensated, to say this. I'm not sure I'll even be in Singapore to do the race next year! But I enjoyed this year's Venus Run (ok fine...was tempted by the ice cream, entertained by the Coach Holly Cheer Squad, chased a Singapore national rower, and set a PR) and they do take participant feedback into account. Go have fun. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Looking forward

Hello again! I've been AWOL...let's see: 

- Making all the cookies and treats. (When you decide to stay up late and make four large boxes of jam thumbprint cookies, batch by batch, mixed by hand, you suddenly become very thankful for your TRX workouts.) I decided to bake most of my Christmas gifts this year. You get cookies! And you get cookies! Everyone gets cookies! 

- Down with a mystery illness that may have been a mild case of HFMD (a nasty coxsackievirus that mainly affects small children). I had a dreadful fever one day, a sore throat with myriad little ulcers the next, and a bunch of mystery blisters on my fingers and toes appearing on the second/ third day, which was what eventually tipped me off. I was never formally diagnosed but I self-quarantined for a few days anyway just to be a responsible human being. (My sister and niece had the exact same symptoms, so I don't know who got it from whom.) I didn't even think adults could get it. My immune system disagreed. 

- Catching up on Coursera data science coursework and wrapping up some work projects for the year. There was a minor emergency on Saturday as my laptop decided to go on holiday as well and have some cooling problems; with several deadlines looming I had to go out and get a new one. The weekend before Christmas is not the most wonderful time of the year to go and brave shopping crowds. 

- Running in the second trimester has been interesting. Much better than the first trimester, in that I'm not as fatigued or breathless all the time. 

I'm not supremely motivated though so I've been plugging into a podcast or two and running a few miles, or going for an hour's walk around the neighbourhood, or hooking up with friends for the occasional social trail run. For the first time in about three years I haven't got any sort of running schedule, which is quite liberating. And then I spent the first half of last week being sick so I'm just getting back to it.

I've put on about 8 to 10 (?) pounds at this point (20 weeks this week. I don't own a scale; the only time I get weighed is at my doctor's, as I consistently forget to get on the scale at the gym), and can distinctly feel it as extra burning/ fatigue in my legs when I run. The breathlessness is still there a bit but I'm chalking that up to being out of cardio shape - nowhere as bad as first trimester. My occasional 'speed' work on the treadmill in the nice air-conditioned gym is 10 min/ mile! 10 minutes at a time and then I walk or jog for five minutes - rinse and repeat. On the up side this works to my advantage during body weight exercises. 

Also, I am now getting kicked from the inside, which is kind of cool. There is definitely a very active, spirited small person in there (along with a tiny post-it that says 'kick me'?). Prior to this I had merely felt like I was smuggling a pumpkin - now it's a pumpkin with sharp knees.

* * * 

Now that we're getting to the end of the year, I thought I'd have a think about the year to come. So here are a few (deceptively) simple goals for 2015:

1. Produce, love, and look after a healthy, happy baby.
2. Keep up my work projects and find a job in our new city.
3. Reconnect with friends there.
4. Slowly ease back into running by the end of the year; do at least one postpartum race of any distance.
5. Complete my Coursera data science specialisation work, and actually practice it. 
6. Learn to make something that isn't food. (Actually - food too. I've been watching a lot of Masterchef Australia reruns...) I was the kind of child who would fail the craft portion of arts and crafts by gluing my fingertips together instead of the ice-cream sticks. Pinterest was apparently created to torment people like me. Fortunately the good people at One Maker Group have agreed to take pity on me and teach me things like how to use a CNC machine and do interesting things with Arduino.

* * * 

When I tell people we're expecting I frequently get asked: are you having a boy or a girl? Well, we know what we're having, and it's a...surprise. I've recently realised that a LOT of my high school classmates are starting families around the same time. We went to a magnet girls' school whose alumni are known for being strong, intelligent, professional women. And to a woman we all share at least one concern: oh god, gender stereotypes! That start even before a kid is born and then get reinforced by toys! The world is so effed up! 

Regardless of whether you share this concern to the same level we do, there is so much stuff to worry about when you're a parent. Infancy: don't drop the baby. Crawling: towards the electrical socket of doom, the wastebasket of inevitable cholera, the shelf of imminent collapse. Learning to read. School and all its attendant social and conformist pressures. And that's not even accounting for a child's own personality and preferences. 

Now, I'm generally a fairly laid-back person - I will plan and plan, but I'm not a massive worrier about things beyond my control. And of course we all know what happens to the best-laid plans. So I'll just roll with it, I guess. It'll be an adventure to look forward to. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Here we go again - the Stanchart cheating accusation kerfuffle

Remember last year, when some dodo actually cheated during the flagship Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon and found himself in first place? 

This year's 'cheating' 'scandal' is a little different. Blogger and race photographer Tekko, who is himself also a runner, posted this. (Yes, it's the same dude whom I wrote about in this post last year, but this time it goes a little beyond glam race shots.) The long and short of it:
- He was shooting photos near the 35km mark and noticed some people who didn't look like they belonged there that early. 
"As a regular runner and active photographer for the past years, I can recognise a fair number of the local runners who can do sub-4 and there aren't really a lot of them here in Singapore. And even if I don't recognise them, I can tell by the way they run that they are seasoned runners and used to that type of timing. But what was interesting this time was that I could see many unfamiliar faces and people who pardoned my saying so, do not look like runners who are capable of doing this type of timing. Now I know looks can be deceiving but it is kinda difficult to believe that these following people can run sub 4 marathon."
- So he posted their photos and split/ finish times and basically accused them of cheating.
- The post got a massive amount of attention from the local running community, which after last year is already aggrieved enough about runners who cheat. (I mean, lord knows I am. @#%(& cheaterbugs.) 
- HOWEVER, it turns out that the runners he internet-shamed were actually redirected by race organisers through no fault of their own, after they'd failed to meet a cutoff time along the route. 
- Yesterday he retracted the accusation and apologised in a subsequent post.

A couple of thoughts about this whole situation: 

1. Yes, it's cyberbullying. Sure, he retracted it later and apologised. Still cyberbullying. In professional journalism, if you say someone is cheating you better be damn sure of your sources and check-doublecheck-confirm-doubleconfirm. A lot of bloggers and internet armchair critics, of whom I am one, could stand to be more responsible before they point fingers.  

2. This is why we need multiple marathons in Singapore. Not so you can do all of them. So you can enter the one that best suits your needs. Let's say 5 hours, maybe 5.5, is the differentiating factor. It's true - the average finishing time for a Singapore marathon is around 6 hours. (NB: Rachel Toor's hilarious Running Times column on running a marathon here remains one of my favourite pieces on Singapore running ever. But don't ask me WHY the average finishing time is 6 hours - that is the subject of a whole nother rant.) I'm not going to say that's fast or slow because that is a pretty subjective judgement; some people can be walking a marathon on crutches or having recovered from a heart attack and they will take 6 or 7 hours. And other people can sign up a month before and roll out of bed and it's no sweat for them to come in under 3:30 (the universe is unfair).

But yeah, we need several marathons that are differentiated by relative speed/ cut-off times. People who want to finish in say 5 hours or less can do marathon A. People who think they will take 5 hours or more can do marathon B. Problem solved, ta-da! Except of course there are people who want to sign up for ALL THE THINGS.
3. One assumption unspoken but implicit in Tekko's decision to post people's photos and bib numbers is "You don't look like a runner". Never assume. I already got pissed off about this once with Shape last year. This person over at Runner's World did, too
4. Race rules should be clearly spelled out in information booklets - the intermediate cut-off times and points were just not clearly stated anywhere, even though a vague policy was. In contrast, for example, the Perth City to Surf marathon spells out the intermediate cut-off points.

Here's the policy from the Stanchart race website:
For Participants who are unlikely to finish the race within eight hours from the first flag off, race officials will divert the aforesaid Participants, at designated diversion points along the race route, to a shorter race route towards the finish gantry. For their own safety and to avoid being caught in between live traffic, Participants must obey as instructed, or else they will be pulled off the race course immediately. Finisher’s T-shirts (only applicable for the Marathon and Ekiden categories), medals and official race timings will still be issued to the aforesaid Participants. However they will NOT be issued their e-Certificate of Participation as they will be deemed disqualified.
In order to meet the requirements from the authorities to reopen the roads to public at designated times, we will divert runners to take a shorter running route if they do not cover the distance within a certain time.

WTF. This is totally baffling. There should be a CRYSTAL CLEAR cut-off policy: first, state where the cut-off points and times are! If you are stopped you should be able to ride a sweeper bus to get back to the finish line so you can pick up your bag and whatever food/ drink you need. Runners who don't make the time should NOT be rerouted to take a shorter route to the finish line - it sends the wrong message. 

And, uh, am I alone in thinking that a *finisher* shirt is totally different from a *participant* shirt? If you are a legit non-finisher, you still get a participant shirt because you paid, but you shouldn't get to take a finisher shirt and medal, and that should be stated clearly. I've DNFed a couple of races here and while I never even thought of taking a finisher shirt/ medal, I worry about what would happen if I tried. 

A Gold Label race should be held to international standards, not be a clusterf*(k every year, okay? It's getting kind of embarrassing. First you allow a guy who is a KNOWN cheat and was disqualified two years in a row to sign up again, now this. I give up, Stanchart. I give up. 

5. FINALLY, I am all for back-of-the-pack runners (after all, they're already doing better than people who never got off their couch), and I believe the back of the pack should have as good a race experience as the front of the pack, and I know some days it just isn't your day, but I also believe the runner has an obligation to train properly and do his best on race day, especially for something the length of a marathon. And on this one lone point I agree with Tekko completely. 

Am I just a grouchy curmudgeon? Do I get my curmudgeonly-old-lady badge now? 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Race report: the Great Eastern Women's 5K

So way back when in a fit of post-marathon enthusiasm, I signed up for the Great Eastern Women's Run half marathon, hoping to train really hard towards a sub-2-hour half (finally). 

I love love LOVE this race. I've done it every year since 2008, starting with the 10K, and then doing the half marathon in 2012 when it was first offered. I turn up my nose at many all-women's races because of crappy marketing, but this one explicitly does NOT 'shrink it and pink it'. You won't find pink here, or sparkles, or stereotypes, or 'I run for chocolate' messages that just reinforce a dysfunctional relationship between exercise and food - just messages of health and strength and fun and family. You run for your own reasons and no one forces you into any little boxes about running while female. 

AND it's really solidly well-organised every year. (How well-organised? There were about a bajillion runners, but my bag drop and pre-race porta-potty stop took me a grand total of five minutes...combined.) Those are the main reasons I love this race and I keep on coming back. 

And then we all know what happened, gestating a human, etc etc. So I was pretty heartbroken about missing this year's half. I thought I'd either have to run this half as a fun run, or give away my race entry altogether. 

At that point, the thought of being on my feet for two and a half hours was sounding less and less appealing, and the thought of handing over my precious, seriously coveted race slot to someone else who really wanted it was more and more appealing, only a) all my friends who wanted to do the half had already signed up, and b) I have mild qualms about under-the-table bib transfers. 

But amazing things can also happen if you ask nicely. 

So I wrote in to the organisers. I'm signed up for the half, I said, but will be 13 weeks pregnant by the time it rolls around. Can I swap to the 5K? I know the rules say you don't normally let people switch categories, but these are pretty unusual circumstances. And your title sponsor - the Great Eastern insurance company - has a strong emphasis on getting women to stay active and healthy. 

Lo and behold - they replied and said YES, please! We are happy to note you're staying active while pregnant! You're signed up for the 5K! 

A few weeks later, I stood in the race pack pickup line and looked around. Noticed I probably wasn't the only person running for two. And there were other women there with small children. Secondary-school girls. Women who looked like they might be my mom's age. (The variety you get in this race is enormous and wonderful.) 

And holy race swag: a gym bag, a tank top, a blessedly large water bottle, even more samples of stuff, and coupons for everything ranging from a Nando's quarter chicken to discount vitamins. 

A few weeks after that, on the lovely cool morning of November 9, I toed the start line - or rather, I was in the middle of the crowd in the second 5K wave, the farthest back from any Singapore race start line I've been in a looooong time. I snuck over to the side to watch the 10K winners coming in, cheered them on, and then boom - we were off. 

The race route goes around the curve of the Singapore Flyer and F1 pit building, down towards Nicoll Highway, and loops back around, a pretty straightforward and scenic out-and-back along the Kallang River. I felt great the whole way, kept chugging along, and finished in a net time of 32:10...not bad for a poky old pregnant lady. (I was explicitly trying NOT to look at my time. Wasn't wearing my Garmin. Barely glanced at my watch. But in a race atmosphere it's hard to resist the temptation to hustle. Which is why I'm fine running up to 10K on my own for fun, but think I'll lay off the racing - unless it's purely social with friends - till next year. Sometimes my competitive instincts are rather bad for me...) 

And you know what? I had just as great an experience being in the middle of the pack as I usually have being a little farther in front. If your back of the pack folks, who pay the same amount to register, cover the same distance, and often work just as hard, have as fun a time as the folks in front, that is the true test of a really well-organised race. 

To cap off a great morning I ran into a whole bunch of former colleagues who'd done the various race distances (5K, 10K, or half). Impromptu reunion! Sweaty hugs all round! (Also, every single female runner in Singapore apparently does this race - I spotted three other running friends.) 

Photo from Rachel. Sorry we're all squinting! It got hot.

After meandering around the finish site for a longer time than it'd taken me to actually run the 5K, I finally made it home for second breakfast. 

Good race? asked the husband. Great one, I said. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Training To Grow A Human

As you *may* have guessed from my relative slackage and completely falling off the face of the planet when it came to chronicling my now totally theoretical sub-2-half attempt, I'm gestating a human and thus all racing has gone out the window. 

Obviously this is a big deal in my regular life but I'm not really going to make a big deal out of it here because I'm not the first runner to get pregnant and won't be the last. (Also, we do not use inane abbreviations - although pregnant, I remain capable of typing complete words.) Not everyone is in the same place in life that I am - I WILL forgive you if you tune out and your eyes glaze over for the next year.

We'd begun thinking about starting a family this year. Running is great for my stress relief and I decided it was better to just keep running than to not-run while trying to conceive (and then I'd be out of shape cardio-wise AND also stressed out). Sure, we were trying to produce a baby, but I still have a life to live. Three months in, nothing had happened, so I signed up for a marathon. 

During marathon training we put plans on hold for a few months because the whole baby timeline didn't quite fit with the whole moving-continents timeline, so I did a triathlon. Then I had all these great plans to train with Coach Shem for a sub-2 half... and then had to take it all back about a week before training was supposed to start. Oops! I *am* a tiny bit sad that my sub-2 half goal is on hold for another year, especially as I really felt it was totally and absolutely within reach this year if I trained very hard and very smart. But honestly, I will have many more years in which to run half marathons, so I'm fine with that.

This young'un did an olympic-distance triathlon in utero when he or she was just a tiny ball of cells, and before I knew any better. It is obviously destined for great things. 

Me: I hope this child inherits YOUR athletic ability. 
Husband: And your obstinacy. 
Me: Yes...although that's probably a dangerous combination for its health and our sanity.

The week after the tri, I felt far more breathless on my recovery runs than I should have; finally, I figured out something was up when a friend said his bunny rabbit had died and I started weeping. (Seriously? I hadn't even met the rabbit in question.) At that point I went and peed on a stick thrice (always replicate your results). 

Growing a human is hard work. I am exhausted and overheated a lot of the time - thanks, progesterone. But from all accounts it is worth it. And I hear getting to the start line is the easy part. 

Anyway, the next six months should be rather entertaining for me - if not for you...Think lots of easy runs, #teamgluteusmedius, new sports bra reviews (my ribcage seems to have expanded along with my boobs), all the other nonsense adventures that I get up to when I'm not training singlemindedly for one thing, and maybe I'll finally fit into all my oversized race shirts.

So far:  
- I have been rolling out of bed and running however much my body will let me, without the GPS, for about 40-50 minutes at a time and usually somewhere between 5km and 10km. (I've slowed down so much, I should get a heart rate monitor and take advantage of it.) 
- I'm following an approximate tri-training schedule - swim, spin, run - but without the speedwork, hill sprints or anything too high-intensity. I've also been taking a spin class because it's entertaining, but because I can still breathe while cycling I don't trust myself to limit the intensity on the hardest track, so I kind of sit back and ride easy during that track. 
- If any of you have ever done any run-specific strength training through pregnancy (my goal is to build stability, not to push myself), I would love to hear what you did and get some suggestions for exercises and modifications. One site I saw recommended not using any weight heavier than 10 pounds - I'm pretty sure this is BS for otherwise healthy women, as pregnant women who already have toddlers presumably lift those toddlers. Unfortunately I've let my paltry Bodypump class schedule and weight training in general lapse for a few weeks while I felt too gross to do much of anything, so I will be starting over from scratch. I'm particularly liking the TRX suspension exercises I've been doing - they're easily modified for whatever intensity I want. 
- I am really, really glad I am experienced enough to know what intensity levels I can work with at this point, as well as what's normal and what's not. 

Training log: 

There are some weeks/ days I've been unable to eat three bites of chicken soup and other days where I've bounded out of bed and gone for a...well, a shuffle. It's listen to your body day, every day, as I figure my body knows precisely what it needs. (Although, evolution? Listen up, it's 2014 and I live in a developed country where the risk of food poisoning is fairly low. Can we make a deal with the nausea, please?) 

Week 5 - Extremely late period, shortness of breath during recovery runs. At first I think I'm sick, but with none of the other usual flu symptoms like sore throat and runny nose. Wonder what is up. Pee on a stick. 
Runs: 3. Swims: 2. Yoga: 1. All exhausted. Growing a new human is hard work. 

Week 6 - Awkwardly give away some of my race registrations and withdraw from the track group I'd said yes to. Good thing I'm good at verbal contortions. 
Runs: Oh yeah, I sprained my ankle in spectacular fashion this week and was rehabbing it so, um, 0. Swims: 3.

Week 7 - Inform a couple of people (both sets of parents, tri group swim coach) on a need-to-know basis (generally, professionals who might be able to give professional advice). Swim coach says: "Bask in the fact that you have complete licence to NOT improve. Think of it as a limited-time promotional offer." Coach also says to keep things at RPE 3 (out of 5) or below. Sure, I can do that. 
Supposed to do standard-distance aquathlon this weekend. I feel fine but decide the risk of getting kicked during the swim is a little bit too great (waves are designed such that the fastest men's wave will swim right over me halfway through my first lap and their second). Got kicked in the face last tri. Decide to avoid that. 
Runs: 3. Swims: 3. Yoga: 1. Nausea: intensifying. Exhaustion: Resistance is futile. One night after work I simply retired to bed with a book and some herb tea - and passed out before 8pm.

Week 8 - ultrasound this week. See a heartbeat. Cool! Doctor gives the green light to keep running ('running'). Runs (erm, or walks): 3. Swims: 1. Nausea: 7. One no-good, very-bad, cannot-keep-anything-down, horrible day in which I simply take the day off work. Still breathless when I run, but I can run about 2km, stop and walk for a bit, then run another couple of km. 

Week 9 - Ran/ walked/ trundled a couple of times. Very low-intensity spin class: 1. Walks on treadmill for duration of one TV episode: 2. Naps: 5. 
Husband did his first ultra, a trail 50k (80% humidity, 27-30 deg C temps) this weekend, but I was terribly pukey so there are no photos of that. Pffbbt. 

Week 10 - I begin to feel much more human again in appetite and energy, and have resumed something that is actually recognisable as running. Runs: several, including the #runtweetupSG. Yoga: 1. Spin class: 1. 

Week 11 - Work went a bit insane this week because of a major conference and another major work project so I wasn't terribly active; I also spent the weekend at a data bootcamp for journalists, which was the most time I've ever spent on dedicated hands-on data practice (fantastic) but also the most time I've spent sitting continuously on my bum (not so fantastic, and I must be getting old because I needed a serious backrub after that - this is when I decided I needed a standing desk). My niece was born this week. Exciting times all round! Runs: 2. Swims: 1 

Week 12 - The nausea is easing at most times except late in the afternoon/ early evening, when I suddenly develop a tension headache (often caused by a combination of hormones and increased blood volume), queasiness, and the overwhelming desire to take a nap. Runs: 5.

Week 13 - Another doctor's appointment. Runs so far: 2 including the Great Eastern Women's 5K (race report later)! 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Altitude changes

This is the best thing I did for myself this weekend*: clean my desk and set it up as a standing desk.

My desk, in the 50 sq ft room that is our apartment's storeroom/ laundry-basket-room/ my study (everything has to multitask in our apartment; the guestroom is the movie room is the husband's study is the outdoor-gear shed) also doubles as a dressing table of sorts,where my moisturiser and sunscreen live - that's on the right-hand side. My jewellery and various other baubles also live there - that silver sculpture-like doodad you see on the top shelf is really one of those flexible bracelet/ necklace thingies.

Prior to this weekend I hadn't cleaned it for (ahem) months and the whole desk was buried under several strata of notebooks, bills, bank statements, invoices, sample-size bottles of mysterious quackery fluids each claiming to do ever more impressive things for my skin (seriously, every time I go to the store for more sunscreen, someone hands me one of those, or I get sachets of stuff in race swag), etc..

But this weekend I decided enough was enough. Also, my bad habit of slumping on the couch to do work had been doing a number on my's like I'm getting older or something. So I set to work, and this was the result. If I want to sit down in a proper chair, it's easily converted to a regular desk by pushing the boxes back towards the window. Today's Day 2 of working at the standing desk and it's great - now I just have to remember to maintain good posture while standing! Anyone else use a standing desk? Tips?

* Among the other terrific things I did this weekend were: attend a couple of panels at the annual literary festival, hang out with my family, go to a Halloween party, and look up the NYC Marathon results after sleeping through it (wrong time zone). (I do wish Desiree Linden got more love - one day I hope it'll be her turn to shine. She works hard and smart and has come a very long way - I'm a huge fan).

Speaking of altitude changes, I discovered the other day that if my niece is squalling, she can be calmed down if you hold her and do little mini squats, bouncing up and down a little. I don't recall how I discovered this, but I think the usual side-to-side motion just wasn't working and we were all a bit desperate.

Anyway, I spent half of the afternoon doing mini squats with the kiddo. It's an excellent workout. Then I went to do a strength workout with my tri group and what did we start off with? SQUATS. I must've done a couple hundred of them today. My next and final altitude change today will be to go horizontal, I think. Goodnight!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

What I've been up to

Between work, and packing, and life, and an assortment of stuff that includes running (see also: brand-new niece...I think she's a pretty good excuse, don't you?), it's now been more than a week since my last post. 

So what have I been doing? 

Baby snuggles  
How can I possibly say no to this face? 


A week or two ago, I met up with some friends and some total strangers from the Internet for a nice evening run - the only thing we had in common for sure was running, but we all know running is a great equaliser and even where two runners have absolutely nothing else in common, we can certainly TALK about running for at least several hours.  

I met up with Holly, Isaac, @MikeH71a, @wallflowergrace, and a few other folks at the Stadium MRT station in Kallang. Singapore is usually a fairly punctual place (give or take five minutes - we're not Switzerland here) but folks were held up for various good reasons and we ended up starting out half an hour later than planned. 

We ran (walked, jogged, recovery-ran, shuffled) for half an hour along the river. (The best time to run in Singapore is when it's dark out and all the city lights are twinkling.) 
And then we had beers and dinner at Brewerkz by the river. 

Photo via Isaac's blog

I'd been thinking about chili cheese fries since midafternoon that day. 

CHILI CHEESE FRIES. (Are really only good when they're piping hot.) 
Would I do this again? But of course! (I would love to start on time next round... :) ) 

The lazy off-season

As I'm not training for anything in particular right now and have no current long-term goals (that visa stuff is still up in the air; I don't have a visa interview or flight date yet; I don't even know if I'm doing my annual marathon next year or when or where), I've been trundling round the neighbourhood, the Botanic Gardens, the Green Corridor, you name it... between 5 and 10K at a go, which is pretty much my happy place that keeps me sane and destressed.

Lots of books (edited to add synopses) 

- How We Learn, by Benedict Carey: If you are at all interested in learning, and learning about some very counterintuitive study findings about how we learn best, READ THIS BOOK. 

- Annihilation and Authority, by Jeff Vandermeer - books 1 and 2 of the eerie Southern Reach trilogy. (A good Halloween read!) Area X is a spot where some unnamed and cryptic ecological disaster has occurred sometime in the past, and the Southern Reach agency is in charge of investigating it. But for the agency staff and expedition members, all is not as it seems...

- Station Eleven, by Emily St John Mandel - tells the stories of Arthur Leander, a famous actor who drops dead during a production of King Lear; Jeevan Chaudhary, the paramedic who tries to rescue him; and Kirsten Raymonde, the child actress who is on stage as Leander dies. The novel skips backward and forward in time to weave together post-apocalyptic narrative (the same night Leander dies, most of the world is wiped out in the grip of a flu pandemic), mid-apocalypse and pre-apocalypse tales.

- Being Dead, by Jim Crace - Celice and Joseph, two doctors of zoology, are murdered in the sand dunes where they first met. Like Station Eleven (quite coincidentally) this book switches backward and forward in time to tell the stories of their lives and deaths. Jim Crace is one of those writers who...I feel like he verges just on the edge of being precious, but doesn't tip over. In worse hands this book could so easily fall flat. It doesn't. 

And podcasts

- I've been listening to the Hardcore History series by Dan Carlin for Audible. I don't think of myself as a serious history buff, but I've been entertained by the drama and narration of these history podcasts (and at up to four hours long they are hardcore; I tend to split one up over several runs). Most recently I listened to Prophets of Doom, about the Anabaptist cult in Reformation-era Germany - gripping stuff! 

Upcoming stuff:

Great Eastern Women's Run - I'm doing the 5K for fun
A wedding anniversary staycation! at the W! 
A birthday (yikes)
A media hackathon (on my birthday weekend; suffice it to say I will NOT be hacking overnight, because the thing about birthdays is you get older and the thing about getting older is that YOU APPRECIATE SLEEP MORE).

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Meet my new niece

I can't wait till I get to a computer so I'm testing out a phone post.

Happy 0th birthday to my brand-new niece, Audrey B.!

Monday, October 6, 2014

No faux heroes

Recently a well-respected local running coach and race director (and general all-round good dude who is a fixture on the local running scene) posted his race report from Ironman Langkawi. And it was a shocker. 

He claimed he hadn't trained for the swim or bike since the Port Dickson Tri in August - a standard-distance tri - and had basically signed up because some friends were doing it, but he expected to DNF. 

What was he doing? Noodling around for six months? I don't doubt that as a seasoned ultrarunner, he has a base level of fitness that allowed him to complete the thing. (Actually, if you REALLY want to be a good friend to your triathlete mates, be an IronSherpa and cheer squad!) But my bigger concern is that so many people liked the Facebook post and called it "inspirational".

I know that in some cultures and many athletic and academic pursuits, there is a fine tradition of casual sandbagging. Oh, I could barely swim when I signed up for this tri, but somehow I finished it. Oh, we're just going to be riding at a rolling average of less than 30 km/h, you should join us. Oh, I didn't study at all for this test, but I managed to get an A. Oh, this climb is only 5.9, why don't you try it? And I know that the people coolly saying all these self-deprecating things are frequently regarded by many idiots as amazing, inspirational heroes. 

Yeah. Don't give me that shit.

And for crying out loud don't lap it all up, you're only stroking their egos. (In his defense he did post later: "Thanks everyone... but in no way this method of severe lack of training should be followed before going for such a challenge. Complacency is highly dangerous. Better to understand our body's signs & responses rather than follow what others do.") 

If you've signed up for an Ironman, common sense says you jolly well ought to train for it. I would (and do) have more respect for the people who show up to training week after week, who smash themselves at the right time but know when to back off when they need it, whose training logs sometimes say "I had the perfect long ride today" and sometimes "I really struggled with that run and my self-confidence is faltering and this has been the lowest point of my training so far". I have more respect for the people who struggled with or stuck to their training plans, than someone who brags about being undertrained.  So I have absolutely no clue what sort of mentality would lead people to say something like this is inspirational! 

(I also realise that yeah, there is a running subculture of people who sign up for multiple, frequent long-distance races without any regard for time goals, mainly as a way of sightseeing and having fun with friends. I get that. Those folks are clear about what they want to achieve and generally go about it quite safely. And they're not pretending to be heroes for achieving all this, nor do most people regard them as more than, um, slightly eccentric.)

But I know a number of people who trained very hard for IM Langkawi and for their other iron-distance races this year. Calling an undertrained sandbagger 'inspirational' does a great disservice to the people who actually work their tails off to get to the start line. (Here is one, she is actually an inspiration when you read what she's been through.) 
The toughest journey isn't the race itself. It's to the start line. People need to recognise that and stop worshipping faux heroes. Or else just shut up and run. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Monkey wrench

What do you do when a major intercontinental move and work/ life throw a spanner in all your racing plans for the year? (Not that I had any other racing plans besides the aquathlon - ankle rehab, ouch - and the Great Eastern Women's Run in November.)

You keep busy...

- volunteering at another ultramarathon - the Craze Ultra (I was second-shift team lead at the 100-mile turnaround point); alas, between feeding all our runners watermelon, Coke, chips, sandwiches and juice, huddling beneath the tent with the logistics director and runners at midnight when a drizzle turned into a HUGE thunderstorm, and cleaning up after our station closed, it completely slipped our minds to take any photos.

There is one photo I know that exists somewhere out there, and it was taken by Ripley (aka Kelly) of Ripley Runs. She's a local ultrarunner who is very, very tough - she recently completed the Badwater ultramarathon - and at the same time an incredibly nice person. It's such a stereotype, but the ultrarunners I've met here are so much friendlier and more laid-back than the type-A jostler/ medal-junkie/ complainer you get at the average road race here. 

- hanging out with all the little kids at our friends' kids' birthday party last week (their kids are 7, 5, 3, and one month and the older three all had their church/ kindergarten/ elementary school friends over too - oh the cuteness!) 

Out of privacy concerns I won't put up their photos but here is the adorable birthday invitation. Having a soccer coach come over and run games of freeze tag, What's the Time Mr Wolf, and other ballgames for a birthday party attended by 40 kids is a GREAT idea. (If you are an unwary adult, it is also a good way to get beaned in the head with a stray plastic ball or balloon.)  

Please excuse the badly-done privacy airbrush.
- appreciating the local wildlife. This morning there were THREE fat little striated herons on my usual route, AND a baby water monitor lizard, AND I left my phonecam at home because I was just out for a quickie 5km. 

But you can have a picture of this cute little fellow I saw on my run the other day. 

Grey heron, just doing its thing. 

Speaking of monitor lizards, here is a public service announcement: Know your varanid lizards!

(These guys are fairly common in Singapore and can grow to...uhh, unusual size. You'll see them in canals or basking on boardwalks in parks and reserves. And people frequently mistake them for the much more menacing Komodo dragons - which don't live here at all. Water monitors are mostly harmless - don't put your fingers near their jaws, duh - and will generally run away from you when disturbed.) 

Image by Ivan Kwan

Thursday, September 25, 2014


Ankle rehab is dead boring. But necessary. Here's the set of exercises I've been using. 

So instead of running, I've been doing a lot of swimming. 

Luckily, Singapore has fantastic public pools. I realise I'm totally spoilt by the abundance of pools, the cost, the size... $1 on a weekday and $1.30 on a weekend gets you unlimited time in an Olympic-distance, lane-marked, 50m pool with sections marked off for lap swim. Most public pools are open 8am-9pm, with some open at 6am for the folks who want to get a workout in earlier. 

And this fabulous new aquatic centre just opened. (It has a competition pool too, but that's often closed to the public because of, well, competitions.) This is the training pool - $2 gets you in. Best of all? Warm water in the showers. Can you tell swimming is huge in Singapore?   

Photo from Sport Singapore. 

(By the way: Local hometown swimming hero Joseph Schooling also just won a gold and set a games record in the 100m butterfly at the Asian Games. Well done!! Can you believe the kid is just 19?) 
Photo via Jose Raymond. OMG to be his parents and watch all of those races. I would be having constant heart attacks. 

The chain of gyms that I go to has some pools here and there but they are clearly not made for people who actually, you know, swim. For instance, odd distances: one is 25m long so I feel like the aquatic equivalent of a hamster on a wheel (yes yes, I am a spoilt brat - but I'll never take a 50m outdoor pool for granted again). One is 30m long (the distance was not marked; I had to count strokes and estimate). And the one covered pool usable in a thunderstorm is 40m (I ask you: in what tropical country do you require a heated pool?)  

What about pool running, you ask? That just requires more gear, and as someone who has to move continents in a few months, more Stuff is the exact opposite of what I want right now! 

Some waterlogged thoughts: 
- I constantly forget what lap I'm on. Need a better system than my memory or moving my water bottle from one tile to another. (I often count down from 50, for instance.) 
- Most people in the lap-swim lane are pretty good about not swimming in the middle of the lane. 
- Not everyone fully understands the concept of circle swim, which on busy Saturday mornings is CRUCIAL.

As the ankle gets stronger I've been tooling around the neighbourhood or on the treadmill at a super easy pace for 25 or 30 minutes at a time. No pain but I can't say everything feels totally *stable* yet. Like if I put a foot wrong the ankle will just go over again. Time for a dose of patience. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Three left feet

True confession: I was a clumsy, clumsy kid.

Once upon a time, when I was about three years old, I waddled up to a coffee-table and yanked on the tablecloth. Unfortunately, sitting on top of that tablecloth was a full pot of hot tea. I still have the burn scar...

When I was 15 we went on a school trip to East Malaysia. It was a geography trip, so there was plenty of hiking through tropical rainforests chock-full of lethal things like rattan:

Yes, those are spines. No, you don't want to walk into them face-first. Image courtesy of

...and speedboat rides across lakes, et.c. And my one injury from that trip? We were sitting down in a nice, air-conditioned, carpeted theatre for a cultural performance. At the end I stood up, tripped over my own shoelaces, and scraped my knee raw on the carpet.

And I bet I'm the only person to have sprained my ankle on a backyard trampoline by landing wrong...that one did my prima donna ballet career in. (Joke.)

Every now and then you think you've managed to outgrow the clumsiness, but life smacks you right in the face.

Yesterday afternoon, after running some errands (the only thing I've run since Sunday, sigh), I slid down some steps, landed wrong, twisted my ankle spectacularly, and fell flat on my face. (Go big or go home.) Luckily or unluckily I was outside a restaurant, and the manager saw this, came out and gave me some water and a bag of ice.

So now my ankle is still massively sore and feels awfully weak. I have a feeling I'll be doing rehab instead of the aquathlon. The one that's 1.5 weeks from now and requires a 1.5km swim followed by a 10K. Under normal circumstances neither of these would be a problem, but I haven't run anything longer than 10K since the triathlon and am feeling exhausted and sluggish.

Fortunately, as SF Road Warrior puts it, a little break from running is survivable with books and wine. I don't drink for medical reasons (that liver disorder I was born with) but you bet I can read, and I can eat all the things.

Reading the first of my library books kind of put me off eating all the things, though.
- Salt Sugar Fat - Michael Moss: The American processed-food industry deliberately adds - and has added more and more - salt, sugar, and fat to processed food over the years. You could condemn them for knowingly using addictive, dependency-promoting substances. But the industry itself has been so precisely engineered to rely on these ingredients to provide the shelf life, stability, texture and taste customers want. So who's manipulating whom? Either way, this book will make you aware of what goes into processed food.  

- Snow Crash - Neal Stephenson: I'm cheating; this is a reread of a childhood favourite. I can't believe it's 22 years old. One of the first cyberpunk novels, about a new plague that's linguistic - or is it biological? Or is it binary code? The ideas in it are better than William Gibson's.

- Dead To Me - Anton Strout: Simon Canderous is psychometric, which doesn't mean that he's really good at psychological measurements, but that he can 'read' an object's history by handling it. Oh, and he's trying to figure out why this cute ghost he met doesn't seem to realise she's dead. This one is a fast, fluffy, forgettable read (this is how I've finished three of my library books since Saturday).

- This slightly wacky but backed-by-science post by the author of The Talent Code, on becoming an adult prodigy: the trick is to learn like a kid, conscious, daily, high-quality, intensive practice.

I finally finished 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, just in time for his next book to come out. Part of the reason I took so long is the pace of the darn thing just got slower and slower until by the end it was like reading through molasses.

Other things that are on my burgeoning list - if I can't find them I shall have to resort to actually buying the e-books, it's not like my shelves have that much more available space:

- The Magician's Land - Lev Grossman: This is the third book in the oddly compelling Magicians trilogy, which tracks Quentin Coldwater and his friends through their exercise of magic, their stint at Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic, and down some much darker roads, in a series about coming of age, quarter-life crises and facing life head-on.

- How We Learn - Benedict Carey: New York Times science writer Carey explores the how (and when and where and why) we learn.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Tri-Factor Triathlon: a race report

The long and short of it 
Final result: 3:12:19 (22/42 women in the open category, 23/46) - not pi (3.14) as I was hoping (I saw the race clock at 3:44 coming into the finish and was crossing my fingers for a good nerdy number), but much better than my target time of 3:30 for a first standard-distance tri, and faster than nearly a third of the men who finished - I'll take it! 

44:05 swim (1500m)
3:21 T1
1:19:31 bike (36km)
1:43 T2 
1:03:41 run (10km)

There is no 'after' shot, for good reason. 

The scenic route
Pre-race: Painted my nails blue the night before. Had pasta for dinner. All of those little pre-race rituals that I'm so used to by now. And of course, I slept terribly. 

There was a little drama at 5.45am when I thought I'd have to go pick my friend up because her husband hadn't come back from watching tennis. And then again at 6.05am when I had a contact lens malfunction. Fun times. 
Blue nails are my war paint.
At 7 I got to the race site and got everything set up, did a swim warmup, peed in the ocean (hey, fish do it)... and then waited for the race to start. 

Swim (44:05): The swim was two laps long. Alas, it took me 1.5 laps to get into any sort of rhythm. To be fair, the midsections of those laps involved fairly big waves and a strong current that felt like two strokes forward, one stroke back. Somewhere along the line, someone kicked me in the head and my goggles came partway off (thanks for the concussion, mate). 

But when I finally remembered how to swim properly I overtook a bunch of guys. I was fairly dizzy coming out of the water into T1 and the sand had also been chewed up by 5 previous waves of men so the run-in was a bit slow...

Bike(1:19:31): The bike course was 6 laps of twists, turns, and small hills amounting to 36km -- not a fast course at all. The bike was fairly uneventful...thank goodness! I overtook some people and was overtaken by many people, but none of those were women doing the standard distance - and now I know why, there were only 46 of us.

The bike and I don't have such a great relationship, and I am now sore - maybe I just need a proper bike fitting? I am very proud that I managed to eat some shot blocks and actually drink on the bike (pick up water bottle, drink, look down, wobble, replace bottle) without falling off. Go me.

On all of those turns I kept in mind Hillary Biscay's very good practical advice: look where you go, and you'll go where you look. I also had a hamstring cramp coming off the bike. Interesting. (How do I know it's a cramp and not bum bruising? When I sat on the foam roller there was relief instead of yelping.) 

Run(1:03:41): Oh run. Where do I start. I was not tremendously proud of my performance at all. I can push on a 5K but have the magical ability to talk myself out of pushing uncomfortably hard on a 10K, let alone a 10K off the bike, and I'm really only satisfied with the ones I really PUSH myself on. Remember - I can go and go and go for ever but not being able to breathe isn't really my thing. 

The run was two laps of a (hot!) 5K course; I rolled into transition and snagged my sunglasses and previously-frozen water bottle (I'd stuck it in the freezer the night before and retrieved it in the morning; by the time the run leg rolled around it was the perfect temperature for drinking or dousing oneself with). Then I looked around for the 'run out' exit and set off. This is where I first spotted my husband, who'd done 30km from home on a training run for the North Face ultra (!!) - which was a nice boost. Our friend Rachel was doing the run leg of the relay, and he said she was just a short way ahead of me. Short distance, pah! She was perhaps 300m in front of me and it took me a full 5km to catch up to her. 

I just kept plodding on, knowing I had 10km to cover, and somehow still kept overtaking people. I didn't have my Garmin on so had no way of knowing what my exact pace was. I have a pretty good feel for pace normally, but running off the bike feels completely different from just plain old running. I was still breathing and I could definitely still talk, so what was my excuse? I just didn't feel like pushing it. Which is a lousy excuse for anything if you ask me. 

There were at least three water stations on the run leg, which is pretty great for a 5k loop, so I would drink from my handheld and douse myself in their little cups of cold water.  Coming around the curve on the second lap, I spotted a fellow tri-nerd friend who was there cheering his teammates on, and he ran with me for most of the second lap till the turn-off into the finish chute - thanks for the encouragement! 

One small sticking-point: the run leg volunteers were so dumb, they told my poor husband the run leg was 3 loops. He figured it out when he got to the far end and discovered the turnaround point was at 2.5km, but by that time he'd missed me coming into the finish. 

End point: Electrolyte freezepops for sale. Unlimited, ice-cold electrolyte drink at the finish. Well done Trifactor.

I hadn't measured anything (time or distance) and had to estimate my time by the race clock, my estimated start time, and the time stamp on the text message I sent my husband ("hey I'm done and in transition!") after I'd been wandering around for a few minutes. Type A, I am not. This morning they put up the official results so that's what I've got. 

And now I have all the chafes. A heel chafe from my ankle strap; a boob chafe from a bra that doesn't chafe the other 364 days of the year; and let's just say that if I happen to do another tri I WILL be getting those nice seam-free tri shorts I've been drooling over. 

For fellow triathletes and tryathletes - here's my full tri checklist, in order of item usage:
Pre-race Larabar 
Tri kit: top, sports bra (Moving Comfort Alexis fans, unite), tri-shorts
Swim goggles
Swim cap
Wrist tag 
Ankle strap with timing chip 
2 towels - one for transition, one to sit on in the car home
Bib on belt, to be put on in T1
Helmet, to be put on in T1
Socks and running shoes, to be put on in T1 (yeah I don't clip in; one of these days I'll learn to do that but I felt trying a totally new distance was scary enough. One new scary thing at a time!) 
Water bottle on bike 
Shot blocks for during the bike leg
Sunglasses (didn't need them in T1, put them on in T2 so I could look cool on the run and have the sun out of my eyes)
Pre-frozen water bottle in handheld 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Obligatory pre-tri check-in

So, the last couple of weeks have been immensely hectic. I left my newsroom job at the end of last week, but am still working for a number of outlets - I'm now a full-time independent journalist and am juggling several work projects at one go. (I've always thought freelancing is a very important survival skill. Especially when one is about to move continents without a specific date or job lined up.)

It's now three days out from my first OD tri. I don't count chickens before they hatch so ask me again in three days what I thought of it!

Some things that have kept me entertained this week:

1. I went to a green-building conference, partly because I am a nerd and partly because I was covering it for work, but anyway the point of this was to say I now get off work at a time when I can still see the sun set.

Overlooking Marina Bay. I took a walk across the bridge to meet a friend for dinner. (Meeting friends for dinner on a worknight! Another thing I can now do!)

2. These ads for SkinnyMint tea have been popping up in my Facebook a lot lately and I can't figure out why. I guess that means Facebook doesn't know me as well as it thinks. Or, it's doing this purely for my entertainment.

Here is one gem.

Her feet! Her arms! Her poor neck! That isn't a yoga pose! Jeez, this stuff needs to stop before they hurt somebody.

Also, never mind the complete pseudoscience of a 'detox' (nb. that is what kidneys are for, you should try using them sometime, it's great) --  I understand, via a friend, that this stuff has a laxative effect. I'm a runner. I don't want farts I can't trust.

Why do people keep getting correlation mixed up with causation? Changing your weight does not lead to good health; heck, your weight is not always even a reliable symptom of good health. Your weight, however, may change while your body is in the process of becoming healthy. Weight gain, or weight loss, is a side effect of the underlying changes you are making - eating less processed food, taking up new gym classes, entering road races, etc - to get healthy. (I gained a little weight during marathon training because I was also strength training a little bit. Which, fine by me.) Weight loss by pooping? Will definitely not make you any healthier than you were before. Unless you used to be constipated.

Here, read this one instead.
To everyone who's told women they 'shouldn't get too muscular'

3. In my email inbox this week: the Great Eastern Women's Run has an all-female pacer team!

See, Shape, it's not that hard to find women willing to pace, you just have to ask them. It is not 'more entertaining' for women to be trailing along after male pacers. It is inspiring for us to see other women where we want to be, and maybe talk to them about how they got there.

Just another example of Great Eastern apparently reading my mind. Or my blog. Whichever. You are my heroes and I'm looking forward to this half.

4. As a sort of Florence hangover, I've been reading this book by popular historian Christopher Hibbert, on the House of the Medici. I'm not even normally a big history buff, but this book is written like a popular thriller.

The next few weeks are going to be packed race-wise: this weekend is the tri; next weekend is the Yellow Ribbon Prison Run which I swore up and down last year I'd be on time for this year (doing it as a fun run, I swear); the following weekend I'm volunteering at another ultra; and there's an aquathlon (swim 1500m, run 10k) in the last week of September. Why does all the fun stuff have to happen this month?